Favorite things in southern India
September 15, 2013 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm off to southern India at the end of the year (Mumbai and below). I'd love to know what towns, regions, temples or places of interest you thought were awesomely and unexpectedly amazing.

There are some obvious places I'm going, like Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Bangalore, Puducherry and Hampi. What other stops along the way should I fit in, that maybe aren't obvious from the guidebook? And in these areas, is there anything specifically I should make extra certain not to miss?

I've seen this awesome question (and gotten a lot out of it on previous trips).
posted by dontjumplarry to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We once stayed in a wildlife sanctuary in Tholpetty (Wayanad District, Kerala) for four days, staying up late at night to listen to the panthers leap down into the brush, and then woke up early to look for tigers and baby elephants. The guesthouse we stayed at had amazing curries too, and the owner/chef humored us on our last evening and taught us a few things in his kitchen. There's a riverine area near by that's was mostly frequented by picnicking families.

In general, I can't overstate how much we loved visiting Kerala. We flew into Kochi/Cochin and then made our way north.

In Bombay, we lucked out because there's an active Couchsurfing.com community and by reaching out to folks in advance for advice, we ate and partied very well. The one thing I will say is go find a Parsi restaurant and order everything they tell you to eat. The chicken curry is life-changing.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:58 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should go to Madurai. It's a beautiful place which rewards informal walking and diligent guide book following. Make sure you eat at the Murugan Idli Cafe. Actually, just make sure you eat a lot and everywhere. Stay at the North Gate Hotel just outside if town for good, reasonably priced rooms, free wifi and a great on site restaurant. In town you'll be happy enough at the Aarathy Hotel. Great food, good rooms and the elephant from the temple opposite takes her morning tea there. Then take the train to Kanyakumari.
posted by firstdrop at 8:45 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Munnar (try to go on a trek while you're there and see the sunrise inside the national park).

Kochin (Cochi) is also a great place to hang out for a few days, particularly at Christmas time (it's a major Christian centre). I did a wonderful cooking class there too.
posted by girlgenius at 11:39 PM on September 15, 2013

Munnar is a beautiful place.
posted by thewalrus at 2:48 AM on September 16, 2013

Madurai and Kerala are solid recommendations. Mysore is beautiful; Bangalore is frankly overrated. Chennai gets unfairly tagged as boring - it can be quite nice.

South Indian food may be a bit of an acquired taste but it is *fantastic*. Can be spicy, though. Food in Kerala may come cooked in coconut oil, which is a stronger taste than many people are used to.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:55 AM on September 16, 2013

I traveled in the North first, then did a loop down along the West coast to the bottom of India then back up to Mumbai. The intricately carved marble temples of the North are gorgeous but I loved the temples of the South even more. They're so colorful and playful and there's way fewer Western tourists and hardly any touts/hassle once you get past Goa. On the other hand, there isn't as much infrastructure for tourists but it all lends to the experience.

My travel site has an insanely detailed routemap with where I went, how I got there (i.e train, bus) and how long it took if you're interested in possible routes. I'll send it over memail.

Personally, I was not a fan of Goa. I've been to much nicer beaches with less hassle but then again I was halfway into my time in India by then and possibly a little guarded by then. I stayed on Palolem (it was supposed to be one of the quiet ones and it was). Old Goa is interesting if you like colonial architecture.

Kerala: I really enjoyed Kochin in Kerala, watching the fishing rigs on the beach and attending a Kathakali dance. I took a boat trip at some point and didn't think it was that great although many tourists seem to like it.

Alleppy: I stopped off here for a night on the way through Kerala. It's a really sleepy town with nothing to do but a fine enough place to rest for a day.

Kanykumari: The feeling you get here is really interesting. There are a lot of Indians making pilgrimages there (the southern most part of India) and there was a temple there that wasn't as nice or big as any in the South I went to but it had an energy about it from the worshipers. I'm not sure it's worth an out of the way trip but if you have the time it's worth one night to check out.

Varkala: Another beach. I liked this one more than Palolem because it was on a cliff.

Trivandrum: I really only went here to get to a yoga ashram nearby. It's pretty small for a regional capital. There are a few nice buildings but not really a huge destination.

Madurai: My favorite part of Southern India. This is my vote for "do not miss." The temple there is amazing. People watching is great and everyone is really nice and excited you're there. I wish I'd gone back more than one day (but I'm really into the Southern style of temples).

Thanjavur: A nice temple but probably one of the least impressive that I went to in the south (the town nearby isn't interesting and I like the colorful temples more).

Tiruchirappalli (Trichy): The was my second favorite temple town in the South after Madurai. It was colorful, full of life and interesting. It also had far fewer tourists. In fact, I'm not sure if I saw any while I was there. On that note, I was a woman traveling alone and the South was a bit more lonely because there were far fewer tourists to talk to at hotels.

Pondicherry: This didn't really feel like India to me. After all of the color and life in the temple towns I had just seen this town was full of French food and expensive hotels. Seeing colonial architecture like this is interesting but it didn't have the "life" I saw in other towns.

Bangalore: I spent a few days here for some reason. I think I needed to buy supplies, see a Western movie, rent a room with a/c and pamper myself. I went to the post office. Honestly, I don't remember any "touristy" reason for going here other than needing to pass through on the train.

Mumbai: I liked Mumbai's pretty old buildings and the feeling it had. I hated dealing with the train station, trying to find a reasonably priced place to stay (I was shocked), or dealing with traffic.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:04 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's been ages since I was in Southern India, back in 1990, but one of the places I remember the best is Kanykumari. I wound up there, even though Lonely Planet didn't much like it, because I posted my Southern India travel plans to a Usenet group, and lots of folks recommended I add this city. There's something magical about a place where the big events of the day are watching the sunrise and the sunset. I hope that still happens.
posted by jeri at 2:38 AM on September 19, 2013

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